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Father's Obesity Raises Kid's Cancer Risk, Study Reveals

Update Date: Feb 05, 2013 07:17 PM EST
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Past studies have shown that a mother's diet and weight can affect her child's health even before birth. However, new research reveals what a father eats and how much he weighs is just as important to the health of his future offspring after a new study revealed that paternal obesity could increase a baby's risk of developing cancer later in life.

Researchers explain that hypomethylation of the gene coding for the Insulin-like growth factor 2 (IGF2) in infants corresponds to an increased risk of developing cancer.  The study published in the journal BMC Medicine analyzed fetal cells isolated from infant cord blood and found that babies born to obese fathers had a decrease in the amount of DNA methylation of IGF2 in their cells.

Researchers explain that DNA contains genetic information that is inherited from parents by children. However, epigenetic imprinting, like DNA methylation, controls how active these inherited genes are. Insulin-like growth factor 2 of IGF2 codes for a growth factor that is essential during fetal development, and abnormal control of this gene, including DNA hypomethylation, has been linked to an increased risk of developing cancer.

After comparing parental weight to their newborn's epigenetic data, researchers at Duke University Hospital found that IGF2 was hypomethylated in newborns with obese father, but not obese mothers.

"During spermatogenesis some regions in the DNA may be sensitive to environmental damage; these effects can be transmitted to the next generation," lead researcher Dr. Adelheid Soubry explained in a news release.

"It is possible that (mal)nutrition or hormone levels in obese fathers, leads to incomplete DNA methylation or to unstable genomic imprinting of sperm cells. Further research is necessary to confirm our findings," Soubry added.

Epigenetic marks are usually reprogrammed while sperm and eggs are being formed, which is why factors like parental nutrition, lifestyle or environment can have a direct effect on a child's development and subsequent health. 

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